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9-Misc: New industry-funded science-media initiative in the UK

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TITLE:  The appliance of science; scientists feel that journalists donŐt
        understand the. A new media centre could bring the two camps
        together + Comment by Norfolk Genetic Information Network, UK
SOURCE: The Independent, UK, by Tristram Hunt, Susan Greenfield
DATE:   November 20, 2001

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COMMENT from NGIN, Nov 22, 2001:
SIRCus science-media initiative

Thanks to Marcus Williamson for pointing out in relation to the appearance 
of this piece in the Independent, that the Independent's pro-GM science 
editor Steve Connor was a collaborator with Greenfield and Krebs in the 
industry-funded SIRCus science-media initiative.

According to the SIRC, Susan Greenfield is: " advisor to the Social 
Issues Research Centre and is centrally involved with us in the development 
of a Code of Practice for science and health reporting." http://

Still more revealingly, Marcus points out that Tristram Hunt, the co-author 
of the piece below with Greenfield the industry friendly Blairite 
barroness, operates out of Tony Blair's press office at no. 10.

This once again confirms the trajectory of this project since the first 
leaked memo out of the cabinet office indicating Blair's team were trying 
to plant GM-sympathetic scientists on the Today programme etc. to support 
government policy.

As Tom Wakeford has pointed out, the new science media centre is a direct 
assault on free speech: "...Her Majesty's government is busy fashioning a 
new Whitehall watchdog. Initiated by the Minister for Science, Lord 
Sainsbury, it aims to combat what its promoter Lord Melvyn Bragg calls the 
"unfounded scare stories that are increasingly drowning out responsible 
reporting and sensible advice." New Labour has begun establishing what will 
effectively be Britain's first Ministry of Truth of which George Orwell's 
fictional rulers would be proud.

Senior figures in the Government, Royal Society and Royal Institution have 
decided that their much-prized Knowledge Economy necessitates the 
curtailment of free speech. As Bragg warned, "if ignorance stirred to 
hysteria by sensationalism were to get in the driving seat, thousands of 
highly skilled and remarkable opportunities for self-fulfilment, wealth 
creation and knowledge formation would be lost." Advocate of GM crops, Lord 
Taverne, argues that the media's "sloppiness" on issues of GM was now 
"undermining the health of our democracy."

Before you can say "freedom of the press", a new Code of Practice has 
already been endorsed by Lord Wakeham's Press Complaints Commission (PCC). 
The Code recommends that journalists consult with approved experts, a 
secret directory of which is to be provided to "registered journalists with 
bona fide credentials". "

New Stalinism in the Labour lab, Education Guardian, 15 June 2001 http://,9826,507652,00.html

An example of how these media initiatives may already be making a 
difference was provided by a DAILY MAIL article (July 31, 2001) 'THE GM 
TOMATO THAT COULD FEED THE WORLD'. In it James Chapman the Mail's Science 
Correspondent quoted at length Prof Mike Gale of the John Innes Centre. How 
come? Gale is not an expert on either salt tolerant crops or tomatoes. He 
is, however, one of the scientists to be found listed in the new Royal 
Society register of "experts" available to help journalists get their 
stories right on GM. Prof Anthony Trewavas is another!

In the article Gale claims the GM salt-tolerant tomato "breakthrough" will 
"reduce public opposition to GM crops". He says nothing, however, about the 
non-GM means available of developing salt tolerance. Yet Gale could hardly 
fail to have known about the remarkable success of such non-GM research 
with a major food crop because it has been going on at the JIC-or, more 
accurately, would be going on if the funding hadn't dried up!!

If anyone thinks the non-GM breakthrough may have been accidentally 
overlooked, see what JIC science communicators did in the case of 'super 

The Blairite Dr Tristram Hunt is soon to lecture A level students on: 

How very appropriate for someone who ends his article on the new science 
media centre with the claim, "At the moment we are given only half the 


On Wed, 21 Nov 2001 07:11:18 +0000, NGIN wrote:

According to this article, "Greenfield's aim is to help journalists to find 
the right scientist to talk to at the right time." Scientists like Prof 
Anthony Trewavas, presumably. who the Royal Society list as a media expert 
available to advise journalists on getting their stories on genetic 
manipulation right.

Note also: "Things do seem to be improving slowly. Most people remain 
opposed to GM technology but are less opposed to researching it. Government 
support for the animal research company Huntingdon Life Sciences met with 
general approval. Parliament passed a Bill allowing research into stem-cell 
therapy [ie embryo cloning]."

The list is revealing as an earlier Financial Times article also identified 
"animal research, cloning and genetically modified food" as particular 
concerns of the new centre in terms of helping "sceptical and impatient 
journalists" get their stories right.

[New independent media centre aims to give scientists a voice', The 
Financial Times, Jan 30, 2001]

To fully understand the subtext of this Greenfield piece, and for how the 
Royal Society, Greenfield and her industry-funded allies have cooked up 
this scheme, see: 'The new Thought Police', SPLICE, May/June 2001 http://



SCIENCE IS dictating how we live with a brutal momentum. Climate change, 
surveillance technology and, now, bio-terrorism are unassailable components 
of modern society. Yet the British public is still ignorant of the most 
elementary aspects of scientific inquiry, and the scientific establishment 
is arrogantly complicit in that ignorance.

While much of society is now media-savvy, science has been left behind. 
Groups opposed to scientific research are always there to take the call.

And scientists have shown a masochistic lack of interest in public debate; 
their preferred medium is the rarefied pages of peer-reviewed journals such 
as Nature. Scientists have a proper concern for the discipline of their 
method and are wary of speaking out before their thesis has been tested by 
colleagues. The memory of the cold fusion "breakthrough" , later proved 
horribly wrong, weighs heavy. Pressure groups talk in the black- and-white 
language loved by reporters; academics are usually more diffident.

Scientists have been further scared away from public engagement by the 
media frenzy around GM technology in 1999, science's annus horribilis. The 
reduction of a complex branch of biological engineering to "Frankenstein 
food" was typical of media hopelessly ill equipped to discuss scientific 
progress rationally. And into the vacuum stepped big business. What 
inflicted the greatest damage on GM science was that the case for the 
defence was fronted by the bio-tech groups Monsanto and AstraZeneca.

Science's self-abnegation has undermined support for the very principle of 
scientific endeavour. At a time when most people glean scientific knowledge 
from the media, a refusal to engage with the popular press has been deeply 
detrimental. But this hapless amateurism may be about to change. Next month 
comes the official launch of the Royal Institute's Science Media Centre - a 
belated attempt to claw back some of the lost ground in public trust.

The centre is the brainchild of the institute's director, Susan Greenfield, 
and the broadcaster Lord Bragg of Wigton. As an Oxford professor in 
pharmacology and a media don, Greenfield has watched the collapse of faith 
in science and trust in scientists. Much of it, she believes, can be put 
down to an often unintentional media bias. While lobby groups get their 
message out quickly, science is left behind by the media cycle. 
Greenfield's aim is to help journalists to find the right scientist to talk 
to at the right time. "We need to help scientists understand the demands of 
the media," she says. And it is vital, says Lord Bragg, "that scientists 
learn to communicate if they are not to be marginalised".

The centre's target is busy news journalists who need the "science view". 
The Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, says that making sure all 
journalists have a grasp of science issues is the only way to "raise the 
debate above tabloid sloganising". The challenge is to place science firmly 
in the public realm, where "it can be discussed properly as part of general 
news and culture".

The Royal Society is now taking a more proactive stance on science 
controversies. Recent briefing papers on stem-cell therapy and nuclear 
energy have been deployed with far greater media acumen than usual.

Stories are being placed and even "leaked" - a sure sign of 
professionalism. Also in London, the Science Museum is providing a forum 
for pro-science pressure groups and universities to meet; next year the 
British Association for the Advancement of Science relocates to the 
museum's Wellcome Wing.

Is all this making a difference? Things do seem to be improving slowly.

Most people remain opposed to GM technology but are less opposed to 
researching it. Government support for the animal research company 
Huntingdon Life Sciences met with general approval. Parliament passed a 
Bill allowing research into stem-cell therapy.

The idea that the more we learn about science the more we will love it is 
misguided. We can know as much as we like about genetic engineering and 
still oppose it. But with proper debate, we would at least have sufficient 
knowledge to choose whether to embrace new discoveries or fear them. At the 
moment we are given only half the story.


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